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William Herbert Wallace (29 August 1878 – 26 February 1933) was convicted in 1931 of the murder of his wife Julia in their home in Wolverton Street in Liverpool's Anfield district. His conviction was later overturned by the Court Of Criminal Appeal, the first instance in British legal history where an appeal had been allowed after re-examination of evidence.
The case, with its strange background, has long been the subject of speculation and has generated many books, being regarded internationally as a classic murder mystery.
William Herbert Wallace was born in Millom, Cumberland in 1878. He had a younger brother and sister. On leaving school at fourteen he began training as a draper's assistant in Barrow-in-Furness. On finishing his apprenticeship he obtained a position in Manchester with Messrs Whiteway Laidlaw and Company, outfitters to Her Majesty's Armed Forces and the Colonial, Indian and Foreign Services. In 1903, after five years' service, Wallace obtained a transfer to the company's branch in Calcutta, India, where he remained for two years. On the suggestion of his brother, Joseph, who lived in Shanghai, in 1905 Wallace sought another transfer to Whiteway Laidlaw's branch in that city.
Unfortunately, a recurrent kidney complaint resulted in Wallace resigning his position and returning from China to England in 1907, where his left kidney was removed at Guy's Hospital. Little is recorded of Wallace's life after this time, until he obtained a position working for the Liberal party in Harrogate, rising to the post of election agent in 1911. During his time in Harrogate he met Julia Dennis, and they were married there in March 1914. All early sources suggested that Julia was approximately the same age as Wallace, but in 2001 evidence came to light that she was actually seventeen years older than he was.
At the outbreak of the First World War, the position of Liberal election agent in Harrogate was discontinued, owing to the suspension of elections and a parliamentary truce, and Wallace once again found himself looking for a job. Through the help of his father, he obtained a position as collections agent with the Prudential Assurance Company in Liverpool. The Wallaces moved to Liverpool in 1915, where they were to spend the remainder of their lives, settling in the district of Anfield. During the 1920s, Wallace supplemented his comfortable but mundane existence as collections agent by lecturing part-time in Chemistry at Liverpool Technical College. His hobbies revolved around botany, chemistry and chess, and he also obtained lessons in the violin to enable him to accompany Julia, who was an accomplished pianist, in "musical evenings" at their home at 29 Wolverton Street, Anfield.
Wallace attended a meeting of the Liverpool Chess Club on the evening of Monday 19 January 1931, to play a scheduled chess game. While there he was handed a message, which had been received by telephone about 25 minutes before he arrived. It requested that he call at an address at 25 Menlove Gardens East, Liverpool, at 7.30pm the following evening to discuss insurance with a man who had given his name as "R.M. Qualtrough".
The next night Wallace duly made his way by tramcar to the address in the south of the city at the time requested, only to discover that while there were Menlove Gardens North, South and West, there was no East. Wallace made inquiries in a nearby newsagents and also spoke to a policeman on his beat, but neither were able to help him in his search for the address or the mysterious Qualtrough. He also called at 25 Menlove Gardens West, and asked several other passers-by in the neighbourhood for directions, but to no avail.
After searching the district for about 45 minutes he returned home. His next door neighbours, the Johnstons, who were going out for the evening, encountered Wallace in the alley, complaining that he could not gain entry to his home at either the front or the back. While they watched, Wallace tried the back door again, which now opened. Inside he found his wife Julia had been brutally beaten to death in their sitting room.
Arrested two weeks later, Wallace was questioned at some length. The police had discovered that the telephone box used by "Qualtrough" to make his call to the chess club was just four hundred yards from Wallace's home, although the person in the cafe who took the call was quite certain it was not Wallace on the other end of the line. Nevertheless, the Police began to suspect that "Qualtrough" was in fact William Herbert Wallace.
The police were also convinced that it would have been possible for Wallace to murder his wife and still have time to arrive at the spot where he boarded his tram. This they attempted to prove by having a fit young detective go through the motions of the murder and then sprint all the way to the tram stop, something an ailing 52-year-old Wallace probably could not have accomplished.
Forensic examination of the crime scene had revealed that Julia Wallace's attacker was likely to have been heavily contaminated with her blood, given the brutal and frenzied nature of the assault. Wallace's suit, which he had been wearing on the night of the murder, was examined closely but no trace of bloodstaining was found. The Police formed the theory that a mackintosh, which was unexplainedly found under Julia's corpse, had in fact been used by a naked Wallace to shield himself from blood spatter while committing the crime. Examination of the bath and drains revealed that they had not been recently used, and there was no trace of blood there either, apart from a single tiny clot in the toilet pan, the origin of which could not be established.
Wallace consistently denied having anything to do with the crime, but was charged with murder and stood trial at Liverpool Assizes. Despite the evidence against him being purely circumstantial, and the statement of a local milk delivery boy — who was certain he had spoken to Julia Wallace only minutes before her husband would have had to leave to catch his tram — Wallace was found guilty after an hour's deliberation, and sentenced to death.
In an unprecedented move, the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed the verdict on the grounds that it was "not supported by the weight of the evidence", and Wallace walked free. The decision meant that the jury was wrong — appeals are usually brought on the basis of bad decisions by the presiding judge at the original trial, or by the emergence of new evidence.
After his successful appeal, Wallace returned to his job in insurance but ill health and a whispering campaign soon led to his retirement, and he moved to the Wirral, dying from uraemia and pyelonephritis in 1933 in Clatterbridge Hospital.
No other person was charged with the murder and it remains officially unsolved.
Since the murder various people have investigated the case, a few convinced of Wallace's guilt, most of the others of his innocence. Several features of the case have captured the imaginations of a host of crime-writers; Wallace's stoic demeanour throughout, the chess-like quality of the puzzle, and the fact that almost every piece of evidence could be interpreted in two ways, pointing equally to Wallace's guilt or innocence.
In the 1960s, crime writer Jonathan Goodman made inquiries that led him to a man who had worked with Wallace at the Prudential. This man had been sacked for stealing money and had a record of various petty crimes. He knew Julia Wallace well. Goodman mentioned him, but not by name, in his book The Killing of Julia Wallace.
In 1980, Roger Wilkes, a news editor, investigated the case for a radio programme to be broadcast on the 50th anniversary of the crime in early 1981. He learned that Goodman's suspect had given the police an alibi for the time of Julia's murder. The alibi had been a woman to whom he was engaged, but, after Wallace's death and after being jilted, she offered to swear to Wallace's solicitor that the alibi had been false. Wilkes also discovered that, on the night of the murder, the man had visited a local garage. He'd used a high-pressure hose to wash down his car and a mechanic at the garage had noticed that one of his gloves was soaked in blood. Wilkes attempted to track down the suspect, only to learn he had died but a few months previously. His name was Richard Gordon Parry, a junior employee at Wallace's insurance firm.
In 1931 Parry was a petty criminal aged 22 who was always short of money. Wilkes's case is that Parry knew that Wallace's insurance takings for the day would have been in a cash box at Wallace's home. Since he also knew Mrs Wallace personally it would have been no trouble to visit her on some pretext once Wallace had been lured out of the house by means of the phone call sending him to a non-existent address. The murder of Julia Wallace for the insurance takings was somewhat in vain as there was very little in the cash-box that day. Parry was seen by the police as part of their investigations but given a false alibi by his girlfriend. Wilkes went ahead and named Parry in his radio show, and later developed his case in a book.
The case against Parry is much stronger than that against Wallace, and ascribes a more convincing motive (although recent speculation has centred around the possibility that Parry had an unknown accomplice who entered the house and murdered Julia). There was witness evidence of a blood-stained glove found in Parry's car on the night of the murder, when he took his car to a local garage for cleaning. The evidence from the man who cleaned the car was deliberately suppressed by the police at the time. Wilkes argues that there was, moreover, no motive or reason for Wallace to kill his own wife, and that he was charged because the immense publicity surrounding the case impelled the police to get a conviction at any cost. Parry died in 1980 without admitting any involvement in the crime. However, when Jonathan Goodman and his friend Richard Whittington-Egan confronted him on his London doorstep in 1966, Parry displayed an astonishingly detailed knowledge of the case, and was aware of the deaths of several obscure witnesses connected with the case.
Parry may have been suspected long before Goodman or Wilkes began their investigations. In 1934 author Winifred Duke made oblique reference to the name of the killer as 'Harris', a common Welsh surname which just happens to be a cognate of Parry.
Writing in the London Sunday Times Magazine in October 2013, P.D. James refers to the conclusions of Goodman and Wilkes, but speculates that Parry made the "Qualtrough" call to the chess club as a practical joke in retaliation for Wallace's having reported Parry to their employers for dishonesty. She concludes that Wallace did in fact murder his wife and speculates that the murder weapon was an iron poker with which Wallace struck his victim, having first stripped and covered himself with the mackintosh which was found at the scene of the murder, spattered with Julia Wallace's blood, and that it was entirely possible for him to have done so within a reconstructed timeline of the events of that evening. She believes that "in the end justice was done, if only the fallible justice of men".
P.D. James's 1982 crime novel The Skull Beneath the Skin parallels the fictional murder of Lady Ralston with the real-life Wallace case. In the novel Lady Ralston dies a similar death to Julia Wallace, being battered in the face, and this leads the police to suspect her husband, Sir George Ralston. The presiding officer refers to the Wallace case to suggest that we should learn from Herbert's appeal that it is not always wise to initially place guilt upon the husband. James also directly refers to the Wallace case in The Murder Room, a book in her Adam Dalgliesh series.
The premise of Charlaine Harris's first Aurora Teagarden mystery, Real Murders, is that of a serial killer imitating old murders. The first victim is killed and staged to resemble the Julia Wallace murder scene down to the raincoat beneath the body.